Heavenward is the newest project from Katmin Mohager, also known under his electro-indie moniker The Chain Gang of 1974. Mohagers new project was conceived in 2019 born out of a desire to further express himself beyond the musical territory already covered in his electro project. This lead him to write for Heavenward, with his debut single ‘Hole’ released in September 2020 and followed by EP ‘Staircase Music’ in February 2022. Heavenwards sound is a heady mix of alt-rock, dark pop and shoegaze sounds, with a focus on soaring pop melodies. ‘Pyrophonics’ is the debut album that showcases these sounds in spades. It stands easily alongside contemporaries like October Drift or Narrow Head and classic records from Local H and Hum.
The opening track and the self-titled ‘Heavenward’ spills out of the speakers with an avalanche of guitar noise, bass and drums. It’s a massive sound before any actual guitars join the mix. Layers upon layers of guitars join the mix, a slightly gazey/90’s mix of chorus and distorted guitar sound and it feels like the band is playing 8 feet in front of you. Blowing you back with the air being moved by the speakers. At just over 3 minutes, the title track has no fat on it, taking bigger and bigger steps with each new section.
‘Gasoline’ was one of the singles preceding the release of the album, it’s less full on and already speaks to the poppier side of Heavenward. The production on these tracks is fantastic, the drums are definitely front and centre while guitars swirl around, and the bass provides a melodic counterpart to the soaring melodies and pop hooks in the vocals.
The album keeps both feet firmly planted in gaze curious alt rock with ‘Wish’ but takes the pace down a little which gives the various different elements a little space to breathe. The bass in particular on this track sounds fantastic, a nice gnarly tone in the verses adds a little grit to the track.
There’s no let up as ‘Something Real’ kicks in, machine gun snare drum rolls break into a verse than keeps your head bobbing along. The drums are such an intrinsic part of the band pushing tracks along, giving the guitars the space to create a wall of sound, pulling a gargantuan array of sounds from the pedal board. ‘Something Real’ has a massive euphoric chorus that seems to envelop the entire space when it kicks in.
Third single from the album ‘Be My Blues’ is the first time the record takes its foot of the pedal. A moodier, brooding track that benefits massively from some synth embellishment. Opening a new toy box of sounds that creates new space and opportunity for Katmin’s vocals to be showcased. Halfway through the distortion and fuzz are kicked back in and segway into a great dissonant section that carries us to the end.
Driving drums and lush guitars open ‘Supernova’, it’s a three-and-a-half-minute slab of poppy alt rock. Lead hooks come in and out, the vocals soar over the chorus were ferried to the end of the track with a section so dense with sounds and layers, it’s a gazey dream.
A change of feel altogether on ‘Planned Human Combustion’, like an 80’s pop version of Nine Inch Nails. It gives the album a different colour and showcases a different side and approach to the song writing on the album. Similarly, ‘Pneumatic (Fly)’ provides another shift in tempo and feel before flying (pun intended) into an expansive chorus. Pairing the two tracks in the running order works really well before kicking back into the pop alt rock of single ‘Choke’. Showing that Heavenward isn’t a one trick pony album. ‘Choke’ shows Katmin doing what he does best; shoegaze tinged, 90’s drenched alt rock with a pop twist. It’s across all the tracks on the album, ‘Choke’ is perhaps the strongest distillation of that and a strong close to the album.
The album is a fantastic slice of alternative rock with plenty of nods to shoegaze elements, darker pop sounds and melodies but still firmly rooted in 90’s rock. The album is made all the more impressive when you know that Mohager wrote and performed the majority of the album himself. Bringing in helping hands from members of Teenage Wrist, Dear Boy and Blame My Youth for some additional drum and guitar work. There’s a wave of grungey-gaze bands at the minute but Heavenward stands out in this throng due to the poppier side of things and the focus on an overt pop approach to vocals and many of the tracks. A strong debut album that builds and expands on previous releases that leaves me excited to see what comes next.